I was working on some shoes the other night and my older sister Paige started asking me about the punk movement. Is it the music aspect or the fashion or the lifestyle that makes one “punk”? How do you qualify?
I guess when you’re putting spikes on your shoes your family might want a bit of an explanation. I’m not sure I can explain it myself, but I think if you boil it down it’s a form of self-expression, like life-art.
I don’t know which came first with my interest in punk, the music or the fashion or the art. They kind of go hand-in-hand. I originally got interested in the Velvet Underground. Velvet Underground were compatriots of Andy Warhol and the whole Factory scene (he was their manager and they his studio band). You’d know their song “Walk on the Wild Side.” Thus, fashion, art and music were all part of the genesis of the punk movement. In the early 70’s John Cale made bad decisions and Lou Reed shot off into his solo career. Later he joined with David Bowie (and recently the Killers on one of my favorite tracks ever, “Tranquilize”). I remember loving Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” when I was in seventh grade. How on earth did I stumble upon that? And Bowie, of course, is every child of the 80’s alien symbol of awesomeness. How could we not be mystified by The Labyrinth? I wanted to know all things Bowie. I remember thinking as a 13 yr old, Ziggy Stardust? Who is that? I need him in my life. My fave of his is “Rebel Rebel.”
But back to the 70’s. London in the seventies vomited up bands who paired the aggression, fashion and attitude of the New York bands, both glam and otherwise (including the New York Dolls “Personality Crisis”, Iggy Pop “Lust for Life,” and T. Rex “Bang a Gong”) with politics. Thence came the Sex Pistols, my personal favorite punk band. Heard of Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious? They were part of the Sex Pistols. “God Save the Queen” is punk’s national anthem and it’s an attack on British conformity and reverence to the monarchy. They frequented Vivienne Westwood’s clothing store “Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die” and the band became the inspiration for much of Westwood’s clothing. Hence, the pins, spikes, leather, red plaid, deconstructed clothing look. Pretty much everything that looks punk can somehow be traced back to Vivienne Westwood. I lurve her.
Along with the Sex Pistols were The Clash. They’re another punk pioneer group, widely called “The Only Band that Matters.” I kind of agree. They headlined a concert in 1978 called “Rock against Racism” and they kept ticket prices low at concerts to avoid giving money to “the man.” They pretty much made no money which is an interesting anti-consumerist position for a band to take. You’d know “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and probably “London Calling.”
So those were the major Old School punk groups. But Old School Punk became artsy and pretentious, so Street Punk developed as a return-to-roots movement that happens every once in a while. Punk goes in waves. I don’t like much Street Punk (called Oi). Too gritty. Then in the mid-90’s Green Day moved from Street punk to a more commercial band – basically they sold out. But they still make good music and they're great live. Also in this group are Ska Punk including my two favorites Rancid (related to Operation Ivy) and Less than Jake. In the 90’s there was Skate Punk (The Offspring, NOFX, Face to Face, Bad Religion). I like this subgenre and I saw some of these bands at Slim’s in SF when I was a teenager.
Betsey, Vivienne W. now (old with orange hair) and in the 70’s.
Punk fashion today looks exactly the same as it did in the 70’s, except with a lot of glam thrown in. And that brings us to Betsey Johnson. Remember John Cale of the Velvet Underground? Well that’s Betsey’s ex husband. She was part of the Velvet Underground / Andy Warhol scene! She’s been in and out of style since 1978 but I think she really blew up fashion-wise when she started making accessories and handbags around 2003. I bought my first Betsey Johnson dress at a thrift store on Telegraph Ave. in 1996. It was hot pink. It still fits, but maybe for Some Guy’s eyes only. Betsey has really married art and fashion, with big punk elements thrown in. She needs to hire me to design shoes for her.
So when Paige said, “I like it, I just don’t really get it” it got me thinking. Where did all this come from? How is it still relevant in my mom-life in the suburbs? Is it possible to be punk and drive a minivan?
Punks on the Street . . .
evolve into Madonna’s punk phase which inspired Lady Gaga (as does Andy Warhol) . . .
which evolves into Madonna goes back to the roots – Warhol. It all comes back to the Factory, folks!
I remember when I learned I was pregnant with my third child worrying about having to make the jump into minivan life. I had an X5. It didn’t fit three carseats across. I was talking to my then brother-in-law about the commitment it takes to officially give up on cool and buy the damn minivan. He turned to me and said, “Your car does not define you. Punk is in your soul.” I bought the minivan. (And yes, of course it’s black!)
This is the phase my life is in right now and I think it’s pretty hardcore. Sure we live in a glamorous quiet suburban town. Sure I rock pack-n-plays. But I’m going to wear what I want and be as leftist as I please and look how I want and take my kids on urban vacations. I just like to live where I can get a freaking parking spot.